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Victorian Bourdon Barometer by Jules Richard with Painted Glass Dial


A Bourdon design aneroid barometer with movement by Jules Richard and glass painted 5.5” dial.

This rare example of a bourdon barometer has a five and a half inch glass painted dial showing 28 to 31 inches of barometric pressure and a retailer’s stamp showing the initials “SL” either side of a three stemmed candelabra design. It has a blue steel indicating hand and a brass pointer operated by a knurled knob to the front of the glass. 

The movement has Eugene Bourdon’s tell-tale crescent shaped flattened vacuum tube with tear dropped fan shaped rack operated by twin levers and is stamped to the movement base with Jules Richard’s initials, the word “brevete” meaning patented and the serial number, “25224”.

The barometer has a graduated brass case with adjustment hole to the centre of the back plate and it comes complete with the original adjustment key.

The French engineer Eugene Bourdon (1808-1884) was an early competitor to Lucien Vidie (inventor of the bellows movement) registering his crescent shaped mechanism design in 1849; it was originally produced under licence with Felix Richard (Bourdon & Richard), and continued to be produced by his son Jules Richard and latterly by Richard Freres (Jules & Max Richard) renowned for their developments to the barograph in France. Bourdon’s designs for both barometers and pressure gauges were met with approval at The Great Exhibition in 1851 winning him a council medal alongside his competitor Vidie. Bourdon’s movement however were slightly more fragile than Vidie’s and although they continued to be produced until the turn of the century, they were less well received. As early as 1863, Admiral Fitzroy, Chief of the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade commented that, “they are not so well adapted for travellers, nor for the measurements of considerable elevations, as Vidie aneroids”, which in some part contributed to the lack of uptake in the UK.

Bourdon continued to work on numerous other designs and eventually became more renowned for his work on pressure gauges. He was a prolific inventor and died in 1884 whilst undertaking experiments on the effects of wind on steam locomotives. A fall from a moving carriage resulted in a head injury from which he died a few days following the accident and was buried in Pere Lachaise cemetery, Paris. His barometer movements are today prized for their workmanship, beauty and for their rarity.

The maker of the movement was Jules Richard (1848 – 1930), the son of Felix Richard, Bourdon’s original partner. Trained under his father and numerous other scientific and clock manufacturers, Richard made his own name in the 1870’s in the manufacturing of telegraph equipment, also working closely with the French scientist EJ Marey on electrical and photographic recording techniques. Following the death of his father in 1876, he took over the family business and in 1882, he formed a partnership with his brother Max under the name of Richard Freres. This partnership was dissolved in 1891 but the company maintained its partnership name with Jules taking sole control of the business until 1921 when it was listed as a public company. It diversified in later years into photographic equipment but the bourdon movement was a stock trade item for the company until at least the end of the nineteenth century.

Given the “JF” makers stamp and the company’s history, we can accurately date this example to between 1876 when Jules took over the business and 1882, when the Richard Freres partnership began. They would stamp later movements with “RF”.

The painted stamp to the front of the glass (SL with candelabra) remains somewhat of a mystery but numerous French scientific instruments and spectacles are known to bear that mark. Although I can find no evidence of the exact name of the company, it would be reasonable to assume that they were a Parisian Optician and scientific instrument retailer commissioning these aneroid barometers from Jules Richard in the 1870’s and exporting them to the UK market given that all of the weather indications are in the English language.

Circa 1878

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